A Framework for K-12 Science Education

A Framework for K-12 Science Education describes what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

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A Framework for K-12 Science Education is the first step in a process that can inform the development of new standards for K-12 science education. The Framework is the result of a year-long work by a writing team of twenty-six educators representative of thirteen states and Washington, DC. Drawing on the extensive body of research that has accumulated since the publication of the National Science Education Standards in 1996, as well as advances in our scientific understanding of how learning happens, the Framework outlines key concepts, practices, and crosscutting themes that should be emphasized within our science standards.

The Need for a New Framework

Over the past few years, it has become abundantly clear that our current framework for K-12 science education is not preparing our students for the challenges of the 21st century. In a rapidly globalizing and increasingly complex world, our students need to be able to think critically about scientific issues and be able to communicate their ideas clearly. A new framework for K-12 science education is needed that emphasizes scientific literacy for all students.

The Current State of Science Education

The National Research Council (NRC) in 2012 released “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.” This document represented the first step in the development of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The Framework identified three dimensions for guiding science education:

– Scientific and engineering practices;
– Crosscutting concepts that integrate core ideas from different domains; and
– Disciplinary core ideas in the life sciences, physical sciences, Earth and space sciences, and engineering, technology, and applications of science.

There has been significant progress made in implementing the Framework at the state and local level, but there is still more work to be done. In order for students to be prepared for college, careers, and citizenship in the 21st century, we need to ensure that all students have access to a quality science education that is based on the Framework.

The Vision for the New Framework

The National Science Education Standards (NSES) were released in 1996 and provided “a vision of science education that would engage all students in active learning” (National Research Council, 1996, p. 23). The standards have been widely recognized as a significant step forward in setting expectations for K-12 science education. Despite their impact, the standards have several important limitations. Most notably, the standards are not a curriculum or a detailed blueprint for instruction. They also do not provide guidance on how to assess student progress toward meeting the standards. To address these limitations, the National Research Council (NRC) convened a committee of experts to develop A Framework for K-12 Science Education.

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The framework is designed to be used by education policymakers, administrators, and teachers as they design and implement science programs and courses. The framework can also be used by scientists, engineers, and other citizens to advocate for high-quality science education. The framework is not a curriculum or a set of standards; rather, it is intended to serve as a tool for guiding the development of new or revised curricula and standards.

The Components of the Framework

The Framework for K-12 Science Education is composed of three distinct domains:

The Nature of Science

The Nature of Science—What Is Science?
An online resource from The National Academies

sciences are based on observation, experimentation, and data analysis.
At its core, science is a systematic way of acquiring knowledge about the natural world.
The scientific method is a series of steps that scientists use to ask questions about the world and test possible explanations for phenomenon.
The scientific method includes making observations, formulating hypotheses, designing and conducting experiments, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions.
The steps of the scientific method are not always carried out in the same order; in fact, they may be conducted in parallel or even omitted altogether in some cases.
Nevertheless, the scientific method is a powerful tool for acquiring knowledge about the natural world and for making progress in solving problems.

The Scientific Enterprise

The elements of the Framework are organized around three dimensions: science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. The fully developed practice of science is complex and incorporates multiple dimensions, as illustrated in figure 1. The nature of scientific knowledge has two key features—it is both durable and dynamic. By durable, we mean that the core ideas in science are those that have been found to explain a wide range of phenomena over many years and continue to be productive; for example, Newtonian mechanics explains the motion of many types of objects ranging from subatomic particles to astronomical bodies with great accuracy. And although it has been revised and extended (e.g., by Einstein’s theory of relativity), Newtonian mechanics remains a useful approximation for many purposes because its simplifications allow us to make predictions without having to consider all the complexities of the real world. At the same time, our scientific knowledge is dynamic because it continues to evolve as we uncover new phenomena or develop new theoretical models to explain them; for example, we now know that Newtonian mechanics breaks down at very small scales or very high speeds, so it must be replaced by quantum mechanics for certain purposes.

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The Scientific Worldview

The Scientific Worldview is a comprehensive view of the natural world that is based on evidence and the scientific method. It describes the world as it is, without involving personal beliefs or values. The Scientific Worldview includes four major components:
-TheNatural World: The physical and biological realms that make up our universe
-TheUniverse: The infinite expanse of space and time that contains all matter and energy
-Energyand Matter: The basic substances of which all things are made
-TheLaws of Nature: The basic principles that govern the behavior of matter and energy

Implementing the Framework

The National Science Education Standards (NSES) were established in 1996 to provide guidance for K-12 science education. The standards were developed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and were based on the recommendations of the National Science Education Leadership Summit. The standards are organized around four themes: scientific inquiry, scientific enterprise, science as a human endeavor, and the nature of science.

The Role of Science Teachers

As the plans for implementing the Framework are developed, it will be important for science teachers to be involved in each stage of the process. In some cases, teachers may be asked to pilot test materials or instructional strategies; in others, they may serve on committees that are advising on the implementation process. At all times, teachers’ input will be critical to ensuring that the Framework’s vision is realized in classrooms and that its goals are achieved for all students.

In addition to their valuable input during the planning process, science teachers also play a key role in implementing the Framework in their classrooms. The Framework provides guidance for curriculum development and instructional practices that can support all students in learning science effectively. As more resources become available to support the implementation of the Framework, science teachers will have increasingly powerful tools at their disposal to help all students meet the challenge of learning science.

The Role of Professional Development

Professional development (PD) is a key component in the implementation of any new curriculum or program. Teachers need time to learn about the new framework, understand how it differs from what they are currently doing, and explore ways to integrate it into their classrooms. In addition, they need ongoing support to continue refining their practice.

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There is no one “right” way to provide PD for teachers. The best approach will likely vary depending on the needs of the teachers, the resources available, and the specific goals of the PD program. However, all effective PD programs have certain key features in common:

– They are long term and ongoing. PD is not a “one and done” proposition; it should beongoing and continuous throughout the implementation process.
– They are job-embedded. The best PD takes place in the context of teachers’ regular work lives, so that it is directly relevant to their day-to-day teaching.
– They are collaborative. Teachers benefit from working together to learn about and experiment with new instructional strategies.
– They use a variety of methods and formats. Effective PD programs make use of different types of activities (e.g., workshops, coaching, mentoring) and delivery formats (e.g., face-to-face, online) to meet the needs of different teachers.”

The Role of Science Education Leaders

Science education leaders play a vital role in supporting the implementation of the Framework for K-12 Science Education. Leaders at all levels—district, school, and state—can provide critical guidance and assistance to teachers as they work to create learning experiences that engage all students in doing science.

District leaders can provide support in a number of ways, including:
-Adopting policies that support the implementation of the Framework
-Allocating resources to support the implementation of the Framework
-Providing professional development opportunities for teachers on the use of the Framework
-Engaging with the community to ensure understanding and buy-in for the changes taking place in science classrooms

School leaders can provide support in a number of ways, including:
-Adopting policies that support the implementation of the Framework
-Allocating resources to support the implementation of the Framework
-Providing professional development opportunities for teachers on the use of the Framework
-Engaging with families and guardians to ensure understanding and buy-in for the changes taking place in science classrooms
-Monitoring student learning and progress to inform instruction


In conclusion, the Framework presents a comprehensive approach to improving science education. It identifies what all students should learn in science and engineering from kindergarten through high school. The Framework is designed to be used by state, district, and school leaders as they develop or revise their science education plans and policies. The National Research Council will continue to provide guidance and support to help educators implement the Framework and put into practice the recommendations of A Framework for K-12 Science Education.

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